DRIVE TO THE OCEAN – Drive to the Ocean
Buy the album here.
Here is a great write-up from Madison Newspapers on the band.
What might appear to be a debut by Drive to the Ocean is actually a continuation of a trajectory that began over a decade ago with a band called 8889 that released an EP in 2004 and two full-length recordings. 2005’s My Music Plan garnered four MAMA nominations in 2006 including New Artist of the Year. Another album was released in 2010 entitled Zoology.
Following a similar five-year gap, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ross Benbow has retooled his musical vehicle somewhat. Gone is his songwriting partner Jason Teteak, currently on the TED circuit. What remains is the dreamy Britpop and melodic sensibility that put 8889 ahead of the post-rock curve in the early 2000’s.
Several of the 8889 band make appearances, most notably guitarist Casey Collins, who also co-wrote four of the album’s ten tracks. Also returning is drummer/percussionist Jamison Stokdyk who also handled engineering and mixing. Bassist Marke Henklemann returns on three tracks.
What becomes clear when listening to Drive to the Ocean is Benbow’s undeniable skill in composing complex pop art coupled with a keen sense of arrangement. Careful listening reveals all kinds of instrumental embellishments. Cleverly placed chord changes keep the songs out of the realm of the mundane.
Henklemann’s melodic bass in central to opener “Ordinary Brains,” a gem of a pop tune with layered vocal harmonies, pulsating rhythms and Beatle-esque chord progressions. “To Win You Over,” is another winner with a great sax solo from Mama Digdown’s Nicholas Bartell. Benbow just seems to have a knack for what should come next and the sax appears like a bolt from the blue while the coda is simply brilliant. “If I Was 25” incorporates a ska feel that breaks into a driving refrain and more perfect instrument placement in the use of melodica, glockenspiel and even a single whistle blow. There are so many nuances you’ll need headphones to truly appreciate the craftsmanship.
Collins’ guitars are by turns atmospheric and jangly and complement the arrangements nicely. Benbow, who also plays guitars and keyboards, sings lead vocals on all the tracks. His voice is controlled and often veers into soulful embellishments. The backing vocals are sumptuous and again, take focused listening to really appreciate as there are tons of inner harmonies. “Same Space,” is an excellent example of the intricate vocal arrangements.
For sheer beauty check out “Fight/Flight,” Here a doubled flute – played by Kimberly Dorr – is central. This is one of the most gorgeous tunes I’ve heard all year; the sound of keyboards, the rat-a-tat of the snare so delicately placed, the thickness of guitar, they all blend so perfectly with the feeling that the flute invokes. Genius.
The more I listened to Drive to the Ocean the more I fell in love with it. This is one of 2015’s best releases and one of the more artful works to ever come out of the city. Benbow and Collins are both professionals with careers in finance and educational research. They have performed only once as Drive to the Ocean and as the Madison Newspapers article (linked above) intimates, they are reluctant to get too drawn in to a live music commitment. There are some obvious reasons no doubt but one of the saddest might be their feeling that live, original music just isn’t valued in Madison. This again pinpoints the effort that needs to be made to get music like this heard. It’s just too good and our lives would all be better for it.